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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Should a civilized society execute criminals?

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

In response to my Tuesday post about a homeowner being threatened with fines and jail for growing a garden, Amy Hillecke posted a comment on BHM’s Facebook page asking for my opinion about the recent execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis in Georgia.

San Quentin Prison execution chamber.

Keeping in mind that I know about the case only what I’ve read in a few news reports, I believe Davis was wrongly executed. That is not to say he did not deserve execution. Despite his continued protestations of innocence, he may well have been guilty of the crime. But in the face of serious doubt, I don’t believe any civilized society has the right to end a life, and — again, based only on what little I’ve read — there did appear to be enough doubt to continue to stay the execution.

Obviously, jurists at several levels, up to and including the Supreme Court, disagreed. If further investigation does prove Davis’ innocence, then each of those jurists will have to live with the knowledge they helped execute an innocent man and will face dying one day to, perhaps, face the ultimate judge of their decisions.

I believe we must always err on the side of life.

That said, in such cases where there is no doubt, I believe the proper course of action is a bullet to the back of the head. It’s fast and it’s cheap and the rest of us can get on with living.

I hope I’ve answered Amy’s question. If not, perhaps she will post a comment here.

For the rest of you kind readers, I have my own questions:

Do you believe death is ever a justifiable punishment? If so, under what circumstances, for what crimes?

And do you agree that if there is any reasonable doubt, despite what rules and laws are in place, they must be overridden and execution stayed until such time, if ever, guilt is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt?

11 Responses to “Should a civilized society execute criminals?”

  1. Dixie Says:

    Let the punishment fit the crime.
    I agree with your comments. If there’s no reasonable doubt, in a muder case then yes, execute.

  2. Reloader Says:

    Yep..prevents them from committing more crime..dead men and women do not resort to recidivism..end of story!

  3. Matt, another Says:

    Yes. Has to err on the side or preserving life when possible.

    Premeditated Murder
    Mass Murder
    Violent Rape (especially against children)
    Pedophilia (have to work detailed if/when issues)

    Most any crime committed under color of authority, or as a politicain, policital appointee, etc.

  4. Tawnya Norton Says:

    I also believe we should execute if there is no reasonable doubt, and yes quickly. I do believe as a civilized society this is justifiable to keep our children and families safe.
    I also agree if there is reasonable doubt, then the a stay should be in order until all doubt is gone, and guilt is proven.

  5. Leonard Barnes Says:

    I am afraid I have no reasonable opinion. In some cases death may be appropriate but who am I to judge. The society has the ability to outlaw the death penalty should they so desire, but how do you obtain a consensus when there are as many opinions as there are people? The question will continue to be dealt with on how can we improve the system we use which, by the way, is more often fair than not. It is or would be a real travesty of justice to put to death an innocent person or to allow a guilty person to be freed on technicality or emotion. Who knows what is best, certainly not I.

  6. Angela Says:

    Do I think we should have a death penalty and use it? Absolutely. Do I think we should do so indiscriminately? Of course not. I believe in cases where there is any doubt as to the innocence of the perpetrator, or the fairness of the trial, we should err on the side of caution and commute the sentence. I think the factors we choose to determine whether execution should be a sentencing option should be fairly strict — torture, serial murder, mass murder, incitement to mass murder (such as in Rwanda), rape and murder as war crimes or genocide, etc. (not things like “treason” that can essentially be political crimes, nor things like adultery as you still find in some parts of the world, nor even run-of-the-mill crimes-of-passion type murders, in my opinion.) But I don’t believe there’s some magic man in the sky who’s going to protect the good and punish the bad and dispense ultimate justice after we die — it’s up to us to do that.

    I do value and respect life. But there are people who have either committed actions so horrible that they’ve given up their right to be accorded that respect, or who are so certain to re-offend that incarceration — especially in our system, in which “life” imprisonment often doesn’t mean imprisonment for one’s entire natural life — is not an effective solution to protect the public. To give a personal example, my father’s brother was kidnapped and murdered when he was six years old. The man who did it — and was a teacher, no less! — was later caught in the act of trying to drown his next victim, another little boy whom he had kidnapped. (That child was saved, but it was a close call.) For various reasons, he was charged with kidnapping and attempted murder but not murder, and though he was convicted, twenty or so years later he was out of prison again. There was evidence that he had hurt several children before my uncle, and nothing ever came of that to keep him imprisoned, either. There’ s a lot of research out there that says that people like that cannot be rehabilitated — they will re-offend even if they are let out when they’re very old. They’ve clearly overcome an immense amount of social and biological programming against hurting children to be able to commit those terrible crimes over and over again, so why should we expect any other law or social expectation constrain their behavior? What if the overcrowding of our prisons, often filled with non-violent offenders, reaches such a state ten, twenty, fifty years down the line that elderly violent offenders are released on the erroneous idea that they’ll no longer do any harm? What if we can’t fund the security at those prisons and these people escape?

    Folks who oppose the death penalty on principle often speak about how the loss of one innocent life is too much. And I agree with them with all my heart. But accord the same respect to to the innocent lives of potential future victims of our worst, irredeemable criminals. If one more little kid like my uncle never comes home because we abnegated our duty to deal with these monsters, because we were too weak to do ugly but necessary things to the truly guilty to protect the truly innocent, because we’d rather pass the burden of guilt on to someone who doesn’t suffer from that particular affliction than to bear it ourselves as a reminder of the weight of responsibility we take on in belonging to society, then what good have we actually done in this world? And how is capital punishment really any different, in cases of absolute certainty of guilt, then a police officer taking down a man who walks into a restaurant and starts shooting people en masse? In that case, the cop is taking a life to save lives because the guy has shot three people already and is still holding his gun, and all indications are that he will use it again.

  7. Holly Says:

    I agree with Angela. Death penalty when there is no reasonable doubt & only for those heinous crimes. Also, it should be implemented quickly sontax dollars aren’t supporting these individuals for decades of appeals. The world is overpopulated as it is to be supporting known sociopaths.

  8. Gary Says:

    Y E S !!!!

  9. george Says:

    Read more–there wasn’t much doubt unless you got the story from people who profit from controversy.

    And even if he is found not-guilty of this murder one day, it’s not his only murder. RIP.

  10. Melissa Says:

    I am pro-death penalty, if there is no reasonable doubt.

    But something else I favor that I never hear anything about is corporal punishment. My husband works in the correctional system. The jails are bursting at the seams. We are paying to house and feed these people, even though their crimes may not be life-threatening. (Obviously, no corporal punishment for murder, rape, etc.)

    But if someone is picked up for shoplifting, I think they’d think twice about doing it again if they received 20 lashes for their first offense. What do they get now?!? A slap on the wrist. By using corporal punishment, we wouldn’t have to house/feed these people. The rate of repeat crimes would likely drop, leading to less spent in court costs.

    I’m constantly reminded of the bubble-gum chewing American kid in Singapore a number of years ago. (I think it was Singapore.) He was to receive a caning for chewing gum on the street. (It’s illegal there.) I bet he never chewed gum in Singapore again.

    Just my two cents…

  11. EverAfterPatrick Says:

    I am in the minority here. I was a supporter of State sanctioned capital punishment but can no longer do so. There have been too many times that a person on death row has been acquitted, found not guilty or has had the charges dismissed.

    I would rather see the maximum punishment that can be imposed be life without parole. However, I would give the prisoner the option of ending their own life. The prisoner would have to initiate the action…push the button that releases the chemicals into his blood, flip the switch that turns on the electricity, etc.



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